Minimal Effective Dose

“Stop at technical failure.  Clearly the trend in training is in the opposite direction…. We need to train the minimal effective dose.  Just do what you need to do.  Don’t beat a dead horse.  An hour extra of beating isn’t going to make it even more dead.  It was dead an hour ago… You wasted a lot of energy and a lot of time.  Ask, am I getting my training effect?  Soreness causes problems.  Overuse causes problems.  This is why people don’t feel good.  Why would we want to put people in these states?  Are we improving them through that?”

This is a quote from coach Mike Boyle, although not exactly word for word, taken from a recent strengthcoach.com podcast.  On a side note, if you are not familiar with strengthcoach.com and are interested in learning about training I do suggest you check it out.  I think Boyle makes a fantastic point as I find myself writing about this and similar topics regularly.  That being said, there are a few points to consider in regard to applying it to your training, whether you are a coach or someone who trains on their own.

The first point being, beating the proverbial dead horse is not going to get you into better shape.  More is not always better, especially when you’ve crossed the line of technical failure.  There are diminishing returns at some point even when your form is perfect.  That’s where the minimal effective dose is important.  Most of don’t hav all day to be training and even those that are on the other end of the spectrum like a professional athlete need to spend time on their sport, recovering and with family.  It’s not uncommon for the average trainee to believe that soreness is the indicator of a good workout when that is simply not true (this being one reason I write this blog, to help others and spread the truth!).  As I have heard some say, a beating with a stick will deliver the same feeling the next day but that doesn’t mean it was very effective in helping you reach your goals.  I think that whether you are an athlete or a person dealing with the challenges of everyday life, enduring aches and pains from training is counterproductive.  If life and sport practice itself brings on some aches and pains, that’s one thing but training in the gym is a different story.  It’s important to be able to perform the next day whatever that may be.  It could be a game, work around the house or another training session but it shouldn’t necessarily be hindered by the previous days work.  This is a fine example of the Ambition Athletics 80% Rule, training that is sustainable and repeatable on the long road to success in whatever it is you seek.

Now the second point is, I understand this is not universally an easy thing to do.  Sometimes if you aren’t sweating or breathing heavy at some point it’s hard to believe that you have done enough.  I get that.  No one wants to feel like they didn’t do enough and go home questioning themselves.  So, like Boyle says, as coaches we need to not be putting people in these states, educate them and leave them feeling good as opposed to beat up.  As an “average Joe/Jane” who isn’t working with a coach it takes a little deeper understanding and trusting in the process.  What is your goal ultimately in spending that time at the gym?  Are you getting the desired training effect?

On the opposite side of the coin, although the trend is overreaching, still often times a lack of intensity is the problem.  Many people simply don’t work hard enough.  Light weights, done for monotonously high reps aren’t helping anyone get better.  So, again, I understand that this isn’t an easy thing to do, but ask yourself, am I getting the desired training effect?  You might find that you have to step up your game.

Great movement.  Not sure those weights are adding to the effectiveness

I may have brought up more thoughts than direct answers and problems solved but I will leave you with this:

Master the basics.  Over time you will build the skill of strength.  As this happens, add intensity through load and/or speed.  Focus on quality over quantity.  Eat, rest and repeat.

– Mike Baltren

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